In the Garden

Go green and go broke?

Let's face it: going green in the home or garden can cost a small fortune. Case in point, James Glave has spent $85,000 (Canadian dollars) -- and counting! -- to design and build an "Eco-Shed," a 280-square-foot, solar-heated writing studio which stands in his front yard. Unflinchingly, he chronicles the lengthy -- and sometimes painful -- process in his new book, Almost Green: How I Saved 1/6th of a Billionth of the Planet. Glave likens his adventure to being trapped on a "green-building carousel." He explains, "Designers, contractors, researchers, and consultants have at various points hopped aboard, tossing me opinions and truths and tidbits of insight about materials, location, costs, and mechanical systems before leaping off with a wave and, occasionally, some of my money." While it doesn't take a team of designers to create a thriving organic garden, it can take quite a lot of money -- especially if one lacks the requisite time and patience to anticipate the garden's needs.

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Bleak season for bees

The hive of honey bees I keep out back is just as much a gardening tool as, say, my sharpened shovel, garden rake, or hoe. I used to have two tall, white stacks, buzzing with the consummate pollinators, but an unfortunate, late-spring cold snap did in the weaker of my hives. To make up for the loss, I placed an order for a new package of bees -- about three pounds of bees and a queen -- to be mailed in the mid to late spring. But lots of beekeepers in my area had had the same problems and were well ahead of me on the waiting list for bee shipments. Turns out, I wouldn't be getting any local bees after all, and finding out that I'd been "right at the cut-off point" was little consolation.

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Ozone and our food

There's been a lot of buzz about China's filthy air and its effects on the health and performance of the world's Olympic athletes, but, more disturbing to me, rampant air pollution can affect the yields and quality of the world's food supply, too. Now, although more stringent emissions standards on cars have reduced short periods of high ozone levels, our “background” ozone levels -- the average annual concentrations of the gas in the atmosphere -- have actually increased. In a recent news release, William Manning of the University of Massachusetts Amherst suggests, in part, we have Asia to thank for that, because polluted air masses from the region are making their way to North America and Europe.

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Every drop counts

I've given lots of lip service to collecting rainwater, but, until now, I'd never actually tried it. So far, I've been really surprised by the results. Just yesterday, my husband and I stretched an enormous tarp over half of the garage roof, so that we might divert some rainwater into a new, 32-gallon garbage can, which, we supposed, would surely take a little while to fill. My garden rain gauge shows a quarter of an inch fell overnight, but our 32-gallon container was already overflowing when we peeked outside this morning. Last night's rain hadn't been a deluge. The water coming from the downspout had been just a thin -- albeit steady - trickle, but, apparently, even a small trickle can add up pretty quickly.

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Hidden costs of hybrids

Hybrids can be trouble. No, not hybrid cars. Hybrid flowers. Now, because I've been writing about organic gardening and the environment for several years, I receive all sorts of interesting things in the mail. There are press kits about the newest advances in slug-killing technology. There are esoteric tomes devoted to every conceivable type of mulch or, say, the history of the garden rake. But sometimes I score “sneak preview” plants to try in my own backyard. These sample plants are usually hybrids, painstakingly bred for showier blooms, unusual leaf shape, or extra flashy color. And, while they are interesting and can perform quite well with little help from me, there are hidden costs.

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Issue 25

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